National Geographic : 1941 Oct
The Egyptian Farmer-Winter Sowing in the Pyramid Age THE receding waters of the yearly Nile flood have left the damp fields at El Giza ready for the planting of the winter crop of barley or wheat, and the steward of a large Old Kingdom estate has drawn the baskets of seed from the granary and rounded up his lord's serfs for the task of sow ing. The steward himself may be seen in the middle dis tance, accompanied by the ever-present scribe, checking the distribution of the baskets of seed. The sowers walk slowly across the muddy fields, turning to drop the seed as they go. The plows, drawn by teams of long-horned African cows, are used to turn the seed under, their shallow wooden shares being admirably suited to the purpose. The heavy hooves of the draft animals are as important in this operation as are the plows themselves. Both are assisted in the task by the herd of goats, which bring up the rear of the procession, lured from in front by a handful of grain and driven from behind by the twisted rope whips of their herdsmen. In the background appear, to the right, a temporary reed windbreak, used as a camp by the farmers during their weeks in the fields, and, to the left, a cluster of adobe houses and domed grain bins. On the desert plateau beyond-remote as were their own ers from the dirty, sweaty world in the foreground-rise the pyramid tombs of three great kings oftheIVth Dynasty, Khufu (or Cheops), Khar-ef-Re', and Men-kau-Re', father, son, and grandson. Although the farming group isalldrawn from awell known Vth Dynasty tomb relief, itischaracteristic ofEgypt during most of its history, and, except forthegarments of the men, might pass for a present-day scene. Certainly, the agricultural methods and equipment-notably theplow and the baskets-have changed very little inthelast 4500 years. The ancient farmer wouldfeel athome inmodern fields. The conservatism and lackofinventiveness oftheancient Egyptian is nowhere else sowell illustrated asinhiscon tinued use of the crude agricultural implements and irriga tion machinery of his remote ancestors. Inview ofthe fact that farming (with the accompanying problem ofartifi cial irrigation) was his principal occupation and livelihood, it is surprising to note that such essential aids toagriculture as the well-sweep, the water-wheel, theArchimedes screw, and the disk thresher did notcome into useinEgypt until relatively late times and then only asimportations from abroad. The well-sweep is shownin thecolor plate onpage 495; but the water-wheel-a Graeco-Roman importation-was unknown to the dynastic people ofEgypt and istherefore not portrayed in the paintingsaccompanying this article.